You might hear this term all of the time, but be thinking, what does water-popping actually mean?
The process of water-popping entails applying water to the floor after sanding it, and before applying stain. When done right, water-popping can help you achieve a more even and rich appearance in the stain.
But how do you do it correctly? There are some risks associated with water-popping, so you have to make sure that your process is sound. We’ll address these questions and more in this blog post.
The benefits of water-popping
The science behind water-popping is simple. Since wood is a hygroscopic material, it responds to the addition of moisture by opening the grain.
The water-popping process causes the wood fiber to stand up, giving you more surface area to which the stain will be applied.
The water-popping process also makes sanding marks blend into the rest of the wood grain, helping to reduce swirl marks and other marks from the big machine.
A few benefits of water-popping a floor before staining it include:
- Allows for a more even application of the stain
- Helps the stain penetrate the wood
- Helps to reduce sanding marks
- More intense color
How to water-pop a hardwood floor
The first step in the process is to ensure that you’re using purified water, because tap water sometimes contains chemicals which can harm the wood. You can also use a mix 1:1 water/denatured alcohol to speed up the time it takes for the wood to dry.
Be sure to test the moisture content of the floor using a moisture meter like the Wagner MMC 220 before starting the water-popping process to establish a baseline so you know when the floor is fully dry.
There are a few different methods you can use to water-pop the floor. You can apply the water with a simple rag, a wet mop, or a buffer with a carpet pad soaked in water.
The simplest and most effective way to water-pop a floor is to use a watering can to pour a 2-inch line of water along the floor, following the direction of the grain, then using a T-bar to even out the water.
It is extremely important to make sure that you are applying the water evenly, otherwise you may have to start the process over again by sanding the floor down and water-popping again.
Repeat the process in small sections until water has been applied to the entire floor.
Once the water has been applied and evened out across the floor, let it dry for between two and four hours. The time it takes for the floor to dry will depend on environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, and air circulation. The floor will take on a gritty quality, rather than being completely smooth; the gritty texture signals that the floor is ready for the next step––applying the stain.
Before proceeding with the next step, you’ll want to check the floor for inconsistencies; if a certain area is more smooth or more rough than the others, it means that the water was not applied evenly enough. If the application of the water is uneven, you will have to re-sand the floor and start the water-popping process over again, otherwise the stain may appear splotchy once you apply it.
A word of caution about water-popping
As much as water-popping can go smoothly and result in a remarkable floor, it can also go wrong if done incorrectly. There are a few things to watch out for when deciding to do this process.
During the stain sampling process, you’ll want to water-pop the small area of the floor where you’re applying the sample. The stain is going to look different on a water-popped floor as opposed to a floor that is not water-popped, so you’ll want to replicate the process you’re going to follow in order to ensure that your sample is an accurate reflection of the end result you’ll achieve once everything is said and done.
Another part where things can go wrong is the application process itself. If you pour too much water onto the floor, you might end up damaging the floor and creating a splotchy stain job, which is, of course, the exact opposite of what you’re aiming for with the water-popping process.
If you apply the water unevenly, you’ll also end up with a splotchy stain job. This is why it’s crucial during the water application process to make sure that the application of water is consistent.
Not allowing the floor to fully dry after water-popping and applying the stain can also lead to a splotchy stain appearance. When allowing the floor to dry, you have to take into account the temperature, humidity, and air circulation in the room. A floor will take longer to dry on a humid summer day than it would in the dead of winter.
You’ll also want to be extra careful in terms of walking on the floor after it’s been water-popped, because at this point the wood is more susceptible to showing scuff marks. It’s good practice to avoid walking on the floors at all as they’re drying.
To prevent problems, having a moisture meter like the Wagner MMC 220 is essential because it allows you to determine the moisture content of the wood. It’s a good idea to use this when sampling the stain on a small, water-popped area of the floor to see how long it takes the floor to return to its baseline moisture content. You can use this to determine whether a floor is sufficiently dry after water-popping and ready to be stained, and to make sure that the moisture levels are consistent throughout the floor before beginning the staining process.